Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stitching up the big country

According to my calendar it is 2007, in the age of technology – communications. But here in Australia we seem to be falling between two stools; on the one hand we are still relying on rapidly degrading, stretched copper wire, on the other real technology is tantalisingly out of reach.

I guess with a population of just around 21 million spread around the big continent there are some very real ROI issues in rolling out a fibre optic network. At least one which can reach the low population inland areas; the bulk of the population is situated on coastal areas, particularly the Melbourne Brisbane corridor.

The compromise being adopted is a based on a wireless network and Telstra have been trumpeting their Next G Network. But not without drama!

Telstra wants to close its extensive CDMA network in rural and regional Australia by early 2008, which would force many of the network's 1.7 million customers on to Next G as the only alternative. But Next G is not a viable alternative yet and won’t be for some time, given the faults constantly bugging the system.

Now Telstra are in trouble over a series of ads. One shows Dustin Hoffman instructing a Hollywood real estate agent about a limit on what he will pay for a property but, because his phone keeps cutting out, the agent gets the impression the actor will pay any amount. Hoffman vents his frustration by shouting: "This wouldn't happen in Australia."

The ads also feature overseas talent such the rock singer and political activist Bob Geldof and the tennis star John McEnroe making the same claim. Well they are amusing and bemusing. Obviously none of the star talent has any real experience with the vagaries of Australian telecommunications.

Messrs Hoffman et al might also find the billing practices of Telstra and their main opposition, the Singapore owned Optus, as desirable as the poor service quality. I have been battling both lately on behalf of ordinary people with billing problems that would baffle a certified accountant.

I’ve gained a local reputation because I can actually communicate with those sub-continent call centre jockeys with names like Vic and Sam. So long as I refrain from lapsing into a Punjabi/English accent I can keep them on the line and sort of communicate.

I say sort of, and generally need to have my calls escalated to a supervisor. Sometimes it actually happens, more often Sam or Vic just change their name to Dustin or Bob. When that happens, the resolution is invariably a crock just to get me off the line.

Oh for the days when we rolled three pennies down the slot and did bench presses with a bakelite handset. At least you could get a connection – eventually.

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